To trust or not to trust in Thizz City — the dilemma of SF rap
"If one of us makes it from Frisco, we all make it," says Guce, articulating the regional rap logic that has turned once-fledgling scenes like Houston into national powerhouses. But the SF rap scene hasn't rallied around Mess the way the entire Bay seemed to support Jacka for last year's Billboard-charting Tear Gas (SMC). This is partly due to feuds that have divided the Fillmore itself. A vicious beef with San Quinn two years ago has left lingering tension. Their battle was shocking because Quinn and Mess literally grew up under the same roof — Mess lived with Quinn's family for a time — and the two have recorded together since they were teens.
"It was an ugly fight because they knew too much about each other," says Fillmore's Big Rich, who is in the studio working on his new album, Built to Last, with his protégés, Evenodds. "When Rick Ross and 50-Cent beef, they don't know each other like that. It's very nonpersonal. But these two brothers, every line they said was real."
Just as this beef was "officially" squashed, another exploded between Mess and his former associates the Taliban (Young Boo and Homewrecka), which the group airs on Thizz City. The reasons for the dispute are less clear than the duo's mode of attack, which is to question Mess' street cred due to his recent absence from the Bay. On probation after his second weapons conviction — one strike away from serious prison time — Mess relocated to Miami in 2008 to focus on his music and his new endeavors Scalen Clothing and Scalen Films.
"When you break away and do other things, you get negative shit: 'He ain't fuck with the hood no more. He ain't got money no more,'<0x2009>" Mess says during our phone interview. "Ain't nobody run me out of Fillmore. I go wherever the fuck I please. I got out of jail and moved myself because I don't want to go through that situation no more."
This is an eternal dilemma, not limited to SF. A gangsta rapper faces an unrealistic if not impossible demand: to maintain credibility, you're supposed to simultaneously get rich and stay in the hood.
"A lot of my people are brainwashed to believe you're supposed to be in the hood and stay there," Mess says. "That's not what it's supposed to be. I want to break the cycle. I have a kid. I don't want him to go through the shit I went through. So I'm doing what I need to do for what's better for my kid."
No rap scene is immune to street politics, but the degree to which they affect SF is more extreme than anywhere else in the Bay. To every rapper I spoke with, I put the same question: why? Big Rich links the widespread volatility to both the depressed economy and drug abuse.
"The turf war in SF hip-hop is because niggas ain't eatin' enough," Rich says. "Only a few of us can live off rap. And a few aren't livin' the way they used to because of the economy. That's problem No 2. Problem No. 1 is drugs. A lot of Frisco rappers do cocaine and ecstasy, and drugs alter your thought process and your actions. So you get the drugs mixed in with the street politics and the lack of money being circulated."
Another answer comes from the Fillmore's DaVinci, a rising star originally from Quinn's Done Deal camp. In March, DaVinci released his debut, The Day the Turf Stood Still (SWTBRDS), one of the most powerful, thought-provoking recent Bay Area albums, using gangsta rap to explore the problems of urban life. (The album is available for purchase or for free at www.swtbrds.com/DaVinci) As on his album, DaVinci suggests that gentrification is the root of many problems that bleed into the SF's rap scene.
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